Council plans public meeting on zoning issues

By Mary Hood
Fairhope Courier Intern
Posted 6/2/07

FAIRHOPE — During the Fairhope City Council meeting Thursday evening, a meeting was proposed to be held for the public to discuss zoning issues that involve properties outside the city corporate limits.

The city of Fairhope essentially has its …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Council plans public meeting on zoning issues


FAIRHOPE — During the Fairhope City Council meeting Thursday evening, a meeting was proposed to be held for the public to discuss zoning issues that involve properties outside the city corporate limits.

The city of Fairhope essentially has its hands tied by the Alabama State Constitution when it comes to such zoning issues. Although the rules for development within city limits are clearly defined, there is a problem on how to handle them when they are planned for areas outside the city limits.

This problem initially arose when residents learned Wal-Mart planned to open a store just outside the corporate limits on Highway 181.

Bob Gentle, council chairman, said many people were upset about Wal-Mart moving in.

“We want Fairhope to continue to be the special place it is,” Gentle said. “Fairhope is not an ‘Any City, USA’ type of place.”

Because of its location, the only control the city had over the Wal-Mart was the building permit, which allowed them to dictate how the facade of the building would look, landscaping and provisions for traffic overflow.

The Colony at the Grand presented the next issue with zoning. Within Fairhope there is a limit on building height, which tops out at 35 feet with one exception for buildings within business districts, but that limit is 40 feet.

The Colony at the Grand wants to build a 100-foot building but the area that will house that development is also outside of city limits.

Gentle said the conflict over the building permit has led to a lawsuit.

The most recent issue is over the guest worker condominiums being built by Fairhope High School for foreign workers at the Grand Hotel.

“Once again, we had the power of the permit, but no powers of zoning down there,” Gentle said.

From these issues piling up and causing council members and residents grief, the council feels like something must be done.

And they have chosen to begin finding a solution with a public meeting.

“We want to air out and discuss what we can do and what we can’t do, what we should do and what we shall do,” Gentle said.

During the council meeting Thursday night, Gentle asked each council member to give a comment on the situation and the future meeting.

Councilman Dan Stankoski said he feels it's a good way to clear up for residents what is zoned and what is not zoned and to clearly identify what the city’s powers are.

Councilman Cecil Christenberry hopes the meeting will clear up public confusion and quash any rumors that are being passed along.

“I think this meeting can set things straight,” Christenberry said. “We need to get some control. I look forward to it.”

Councilman Mike Ford also said believes the meeting is needed to help clear the air.

“It’s a cop-out when we say there’s nothing we can do,” Gentle said. “Personally I’d like to see what we can do. It’s time for us to take some big steps here.”

Gentle said the nature of the meeting will be discussion, and that it won’t be “a chair-throwing event.”

The meeting will be about people inside the city and outside the city to gain knowledge on what the limitations of the city are, and what can be changed.

“There’s such a misunderstanding, and I think that if we can convey to people both inside and outside the city that we really want to hear and we need to understand that we are linked together because we all should share a common goal and that’s the preservation of the city,” Gentle said.

He said good planning is pertinent, and that it pays off.

“You can categorically go look at other cities and see where’s there’s been rampant growth and rampant planning and you see empty houses and empty businesses that become ghettos and slums,” Gentle said.

The meeting will also include county planners and lawyers.

Potential solutions will be looked at to determine what action can be taken in the future.

Gentle said the easiest solution would be annexation, pushing the city limits all the way to Weeks Bay and Fish River. He thinks there will be opposition to this however.

“People can come and voice their opinions,” Gentle said. “No one knows the answer today, It’s going to take some cooperation with the county and some cooperation with the people outside the city.”

The date for the meeting has yet to be scheduled but a June date is the initial target.

The council also heard a progress report on the recent street committee meeting.

The hot-button issue is the potential of a roundabout at the intersection of Veterans Drive and Scenic Highway 98.

Stankoski, who presented the report, said Fairhope residents expressed a variety of opinions about the roundabout at the committee meeting.

“There are some people who look at it as new, progressive, time-saving, and there are people who want no part of it,” Stankoski said.

The idea of a roundabout as a potential solution to solve the traffic issue for the Woodlawn neighborhood has been in the making for several years but is not written in stone, Stankoski said.

“We’re at the let’s-look-at-it stage,” Stankoski said. “It may be one solution, but there may be others.”

Stankoski said that one positive factor in having a roundabout is that, statistically, a traffic signal at an intersection increases the number of vehicle accidents, at least for a while.

Also, he said many people said they did not want traffic signals at every intersection.

The meetings and discussion currently taking place regarding this issue are just the initial stages of making a decision, he said, and it may take months or years to finally have the solution chosen, constructed and operational.

“Unfortunately all these road issues take time, and it (their solutions) takes money,” Stankoski said. “The bottom line (with this report) was a progress report of the feasibility of putting a roundabout both from a physical standpoint and a financial standpoint, it’s not a done deal.”

He said the reason the public is hearing so much about this issue is that the council wants the residents to be informed about what is going on. He said there is transparency in the government.

“This is not a good ole’ boy back room deal,” Stankoski said.

Stankoski said there would be future meetings for residents to contribute in the decision-making process.